Once the time frame is established, the process will progress through the following key stages:
• Identify Needs
• Initial Evaluation
• Final Evaluation
• Decision and Contract
• Implementation Planning
• Training and Data Migration
• Go Live
One of the most crucial steps in moving to a new SIS is to account not only for your current needs, but anticipated future needs as well. This is extremely important for technology-related initiatives such as: 1:1, BYOD, flipped classrooms, and virtual instruction.
These steps will help you identify needs and engage your staff in the process, which will positively impact the selection and implementation phases by creating greater buy-in.
• Request copies of RFPs from districts that have recently selected a new SIS (ensure they are not protected if the districts utilized a consultant).
• Select elements that align with your district’s individual needs and purchasing rules. Make sure to collect copies from multiple districts that chose competing solutions to ensure broader coverage and impartiality.
• Distribute functionality requirements by department and have each department leader submit a refined selection of requirements including needs not covered in the original list. It is important to have department leaders provide a weighted value to each item, typically using a five-point scale (5 = must have, 1 = not critical). Request a short time frame for response, as it will increase the urgency and accuracy of submissions.
• Identify technology requirements to compare on-premise solutions to a cloud-based approach. This will assist in determining overall cost. Ensure the cloud-based approach meets your district’s security and privacy standards for student data. More information on security requirements can be found at www.skyward.com/protectyourdata.
• After refining the RFP and functional requirements to your district standards, remember to remove items from the RFP that do not apply to your district.
• Once you are prepared to distribute the RFP to vendors, double check the timelines to ensure they provide adequate time for vendor response and district review.
The initial evaluation phase encompasses three elements: Review of the RFP responses, product reviews, and final round selection. This phase will encompass the greatest amount of work and, at times, the greatest amount of uncertainty, as initial comparison of products may appear very similar.
During the RFP review
process, the comparison of vendors will involve considerable work to identify how each vendor meets your requirements. This process will be easier if you evaluate each requirement area by priority ranking, as discussed in the last section. For example, look at requirements first by highest priority and see how they align with the vendor’s proposal. Continue with the next highest priority group and so on.
This provides much greater insight than just comparing totals by requirements overall, as a vendor may do extremely well with lower priority items but miss a few of your highest priorities. By using this grouping approach, you will have more information to compare vendors without inundating yourself with minutiae. Along with functional requirements, it is extremely important to evaluate the other aspects of the vendor, including:
• Experience in the industry, local service, and most importantly success in meeting your mandated state reporting.
Detailed, thorough training services to ensure your staff will be efficiently trained and proficient in the application upon implementation.
• Make sure to evaluate online versus onsite training options from both a cost and acceptance perspective depending on your staff’s preferred learning approach.
• Completion of Data Migration Services—including how much historical data and the depth of data that will be converted. Include in this evaluation process what data will be migrated by the vendor versus what is the responsibility of the district to manually convert.
• Reference checks should be performed initially with phone calls to verify the substance of the vendor’s proposal. For example, verifying the training costs by confirming the vendor was able to complete all necessary training within the proposed time frame, or if additional training was needed to be purchased.
Upon completion of the RFP review process, identify the three to five vendors that best meet your overall requirements. Make sure to include non-functional expectations such as experience in successfully submitting state reporting requirements and implementation services, before moving on to the next step of product review.
One of the most exciting stages in the evaluation process, Product Review allows district personnel to see the latest developments in applications that can help your district. This phase focuses on evaluating the vendor solutions, but it should also include a learning process to identify workflows and functionality that can help your district improve. It is important that stakeholders recognize that district operations and procedures may need to change to take full advantage of a new solution.
During the product evaluations, create a simple scorecard to evaluate the vendors. Create these scorecards with a scoring matrix by general area and encourage strong written feedback by selection committees; this will provide a much better insight later, after all vendor presentations have been completed.
A common approach to managing the presentation portion of the evaluation stage is to dictate specific step-by-step, or scripted, presentations by each vendor. This makes sense initially to keep the process fair, however, this severely limits the district’s ability to make the most informed decision. Allowing the vendors to present new ways you can improve workflows as well as what emerging functionality is possible will ensure you are fully utilizing your new SIS.
Consider blending the two aforementioned approaches. Begin each section with required points vendors must present including key requirements and standard workflow processes your district needs. After these core functional requirements are completed, include an equal amount of time for the vendor to present functionality at their discretion. It is all too common to see districts provide a scripted demo requirement that is based on the functionality of their current system that would be eliminated by a new solution.
Depending on the scope, requirements, and any follow-up or questions, the product evaluation phase could involve multiple presentations. Additionally, a deeper analysis of each vendor via reference checks should be performed to validate information presented during the presentation phase(s) along with any additional questions that may have arisen.